It started with an NCR story about the U.S. Bishops’ Conference, held last month in Washington, D.C.
During a presentation built around numbers, priest and scholar Daniel Groody presented a “Snapshot of the World” in which he described what life is like for the poorest of the poor. He talked about hunger, homelessness, illiteracy – the earmarks of abject poverty.
Such needs may seem a world away. But ours is a country of contradictions. In a land of vast wealth, 15% live below the poverty line. More than 14% are hungry or malnourished. And 14% are functionally illiterate.
Friars in the inner city and Appalachia know these numbers – and the people behind them. To show the scope of their needs, we decided to compile a “Snapshot of the Province”, with statistics for some of the sites where SJB friars minister in the United States. We asked Sr. Daria Mitchell, OSF, to scour the Internet for numbers on poverty, illiteracy, education, hunger, homelessness, health care and family structure.
What she found may surprise you. In Pittsburgh (Allegheny County), 28% of people live below the poverty line. The rate of homelessness in New Orleans is an appalling 27%. At 55.3%, single-parent homes predominate in Cincinnati’s Hamilton County. In Detroit (Wayne County), 47% are functionally illiterate.
As Daria explains in the chart on Page 2, the results are by no means scientific. But they do give us a sense of where we are – and how far we have to go.
– Toni Cashnelli
Mike Chowning,OFMFr. Mike Chowning, OFMCompiled by Daria Mitchell, OSF
Most of the recent data I’ve seen tends to indicate that things are getting increasingly worse. For example, in Perry County the 2013 data indicates 28.2% are below the poverty level. Perry County is one of the more prosperous counties in the area due to the fact that this tends to be the retail and medical hub. Only 8.5% have a four-year college degree, though 18.7% have some college. Even with Obamacare in place, 17.4% still have no health insurance. Single-parent households don’t tell the whole story; increasingly we are seeing single grandparents raising their grandchildren.
When we speak of the poor we need to realize that the “poor” are not just those defined by the Federal Poverty level. Increasingly, hard-working families are finding it extremely difficult to make ends meet, to pay the bills and to put the simplest meals on the table. The poor are fighting a losing battle; their income can never keep up with the increased cost of living. The “poor” we see are not only the infirm, the truly disabled, the elderly grandparent(s), the homeless, and mentally ill, but parents or single parents working minimum-wage jobs to survive. The number of children being raised in poverty over this past decade has increased alarmingly rather than decreased. While “the poor we will always have with us”, it is not to our credit as a nation or a people.
Al Mascia,OFMBr. Al Mascia, OFM
I am not at all surprised by these statistics, although I had in mind that those living below the poverty level in our region was 6% higher. I can, however, share the surprise most people express when they learn that right across the street from our friary – which looks nothing like the blighted neighborhoods usually associated with metro Detroit – is a charter school whose entire student body live below the poverty level and where we operate a food pantry, clothing room and evening snack ministry!
Fr. David Moczulski, OFM
Last year the U.S. marked the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty initiative of President Lyndon Johnson. That initiative revised the Social Security Act to institute Medicare and Medicaid, established the Food Stamp Act and started Job Corps and VISTA as well as established the first Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
It is so disheartening to see these figures not only from here in Pittsburgh but nationally and to see how the political system has been attempting not to build on these initiatives of the War on Poverty but to dismantle them.
I see firsthand at the hospital [Allegheny General] how patients and families from all age groups struggle with the skyrocketing costs of medical care – how many cannot afford the cost of their prescriptions and end up back in the hospital because they’re unable to pay for post-hospital care. And many worry that their medical insurance will be gone if the Affordable Care Act is taken away.
Br. Tim Sucher, OFM
The percentage of single-parent households in Hamilton County (55.3%) while high, is not surprising. What would be surprising is the average age of the parent in those households. We probably would find that children are having children.
Fr. Dennis Bosse, OFM
New Orleans, La.
I am not surprised by the percentages given. Driving in the Upper 9th Ward and the 7th Ward, there are people just wandering around in the afternoon, and some of these folks are talking to themselves. This observation reflects the lack of mental health facilities, and the mental health facility, along with Catholic Charities Social Outreach Center in the former convent, have not returned. In our area, like the major issue of blight, people feel they are waiting for the “table scraps” to fall from “City Hall” where the perception [is that] other areas of the city do not have to wait.
Most people celebrate the New Year by making resolutions. The city of New Orleans rang in 2015 by keeping one. At 6 p.m. on Jan. 2, social workers in New Orleans moved the city’s last known homeless veteran into his new apartment – becoming the first U.S. city to effectively eliminate veteran homelessness.
*Noelle Swan, “In a U.S. first, New Orleans finds homes for all its homeless veterans,” Christian Science Monitor, Jan. 9, 2015; read more at: New-Orleans
Kenn Beetz, OFM
I leave Saturday for the spring meeting of the English Speaking Conference (ESC) to be held in Kaunas, Lithuania, returning on Passion Sunday. (So why is Lithuania in the ESC?ﾠﾠ During the Soviet occupation, religious life in Lithuania was suppressed.ﾠ Franciscan life was kept alive both underground and through a friary in Kennebunkport, Maine, and other places.) The ESC will share some meeting time with another conference, COTAF (Conference of Transalpine Franciscans).
This conference includes the provinces in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Hungary, Austria, Switzerland and Romania.ﾠ Our topic of conversation will be the upcoming General Chapter to be held in Assisi, May 10-June 7.ﾠ We will discuss qualities needed and possible candidates for the General Minister and General Definitorium, as well as our hopes and expectations for the General Chapter.ﾠ Minister General Michael Perry will be with and update us on the current state of the Order. The theme chosen for the General Chapter is “Brothers and Minors in our Day”, and it will focus on living fraternity and minority in our current times.ﾠ Attached to the News Notes is a copy of the Instrumentum Laboris (Working Document) that will guide the Chapter.ﾠ It relies heavily on the results of the recent sociological study of the Order (which some of us participated in) and Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium. I thought some of you might be interested in reading it.
Though I don’t relish the long trip (that’s part of my Lenten penance), I have never been to Lithuania, and I am excited about this opportunity to meet new brothers and participate in the life of the larger Order as we move toward a significant moment in our history. This might be a good time to use the Order’s prayer for the General Chapter which was sent out earlier.ﾠ In my absence, Provincial Vicar Frank Jasper will be available to SJB
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